DES MOINES - Midland junior Damon Huston’s position among the wrestling elite in the state of Iowa is undeniable.
Last year Huston reached the class 1A 106-pound semi-final round before finishing third in the state.
This year, entering the 120-pound state bracket, Huston had one goal in mind as he showed up at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines Thursday, Feb. 20.
“A state title,” he said. “That’s the goal every year. The sting of the loss in the semifinals last year stayed with me all year long. I worked hard in the off-season to make sure I could get past that round this year and on to the state championship match.”
Huston, ranked third in the state at 120, did it, advancing to the title tilt for the first time Saturday, Feb. 22, and faced a very familiar foe in seventh-ranked Lisbon freshman Brandon Paez, who he had paired up with each of the previous three weeks (at conference, sectionals and districts).
“I was able to beat Paez at conference, but he’s gotten me the past couple of weeks,” Huston said. “I knew what I needed to do to beat him, but he’s a tough kid and just was able to fight through whatever moves I was trying to make.”
The same thing happened in the class 1A 120-pound state championship bout Saturday night as well, as Huston’s dream of a title came up one match short with a heartbreaking 5-0 setback.
“Damon came into the state tournament with only one goal in mind,” said Huston’s dad, and Midland wrestling coach Casey Huston. “But he fell just a little short, but what an amazing run.
“Damon and Brandon have wrestled each other a lot this season, including several times in practice at the Eastern Iowa Wrestling Club. Damon gained some very valuable experience wrestling Saturday night in the state finals, and he’ll be back better and stronger next season.”
Paez jumped to a quick first period lead in the 1A 120-pound final, scoring a takedown less than a minute into the match before adding an escape and another takedown in the second period, taking a 5-0 lead into the final period.
“It’s tough to explain, but Brandon is a tough match-up for me, and something I’m going to have to figure out here eventually,” Huston said. “He wrestles a very unique style that I just struggled with over the past three weeks, and again in the state championship.
“Walking off the mat was tough. To come so close to something I have been working towards my entire life and not get it is very tough to take. I’ve worked my butt off in the last year, and I’m going to do it again this off-season so I can get that one more spot up on the podium. I was third last year and second this year. I have one spot left to go, and one more year to get it done.”
Huston opened his 1A tournament with a resounding 15-1 major decision over AHSTW’s Hayden Fischer in a first-round bout on Thursday.
Huston dominated from the opening whistle scoring a takedown and three-point nearfall in the opening period before coming back with a reversal and another three-point nearfall in the second period taking a commanding 10-1 advantage.
A second takedown and third three-point nearfall closed out Huston’s huge opening-round triumph, which ended mere moments before the Eagle junior was about to record a technical fall.
The win advanced Huston to the quarter-final round Friday, Feb. 21, and against Logan-Magnolia’s top-ranked Hagen Heistand, rocked the 120-pound bracket with a thrilling 3:04 pin triumph.
“That was a really big win for Damon,” Casey said. “To come out and dominate a kid on that level was very impressive.”
Heistand was the first to score however, taking Huston down with a quick first period takedown.
“I didn’t let that takedown rattle me,” Huston said. “I stuck with the game plan and got the job done.”
Huston’s 2-0 deficit didn’t last very long though, as the Midland star scored an escape and a takedown of his own in the first period and led 3-2 heading into the second.
Heistand went on to place third in the class.
Friday night Huston was back on the mat against Don Bosco’s fourth-ranked and tournament second-seeded Garrett Funk in the pressure-filled semi-final bout.
“Funk is a long and lanky kid, and I stuck with the same game-plan as I had against the No. 1 ranked kid,” Huston said. “I tried to keep as calm as I possibly could, knowing this was where I came up short last year. I was not going to have that happen again.”
Huston made that point very clear, almost immediately, scoring an early first period takedown before Funk earned an escape at the end of the period to trail 2-1 entering the second.
Funk was handed a penalty point to knot the score at 2-2 heading into the third, but this time, unlike last year, there would be no late drama.
Huston chose bottom to start the frame and quickly tallied an escape to take a lead he would not lose.
Huston added a takedown almost immediately after the escape and rode out the huge two-point semi-final triumph.
Funk would eventually finish fourth in the class.
“For the most part, I was able to do what I wanted to do in this match,” Huston said. “This felt so good, to be able to make past this round and to the finals is a dream come true.”
Huston closed one of the greatest wrestling campaigns in Midland program history with a 49-4 overall record, and helped (with teammate Cayden Miller) the Eagles score 25 team points at the state tournament, good enough to place in the top-20 (tie for 20th) in the 1A standings going against an 89-team field.
“We were able to get two to state last year and two again this year,” Huston said. “Getting here with Cayden was this year was great, but hopefully we can get 4-5 guys here next year. We have the talent on the team to do it.”